How to Get Stunning Low Key Portraits with One Light Source

Find out how you can achieve great low key portraits with a simple light setup.

Do you have a portrait project in mind that requires a contrasty, low key look? Unlike high-key lighting, this technique usually lets you play with light and shadow to lend a dramatic mood on your portraits. However, it’s also possible to get beautiful results without all the harsh shadows dominating your subject’s features. Daniel Norton shows us how to put together a simple setup for clean-looking low key portraits in his recent OnSet episode.

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How to Make the Most of One Light in a Portrait Studio

Working with a portrait subject in the studio first and foremost requires you to stop thinking about them necessarily as your subject and instead more as your collaborator. Now don’t get me wrong, you’re essentially going to be the conductor of the orchestra most of the time so to speak–but you need to think about people in a different way. You also don’t need the fanciest cameras, lighting, etc to make this work.

In fact, very soon we’ve got a special workshop dedicated to doing just this with Instax Wide film hosted at the Lomography Gallery Store in NYC. But if you’re interested in getting a sneak peak of what’s going to be taught, read on.

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Shooting Better Food Images With One Light

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Fujifilm 16-55mm f2.8 WR review Graham's images (15 of 19)ISO 4001-60 sec at f - 2.8

Food photography isn’t tough to do, but good quality food photography can be incredibly tough. It’s all about timing, composition, colors and lighting. Good food photography whets an appetite and elicits emotions connected to food. If you can make someone smell the Mac and Cheese that you just cooked, then you’re well on your way to making better food images.

Here’s how to go about shooting better food images by using one light and keeping it simple.

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10 Different Ways to Use the Same Softbox


If you’re of the philosophy of using one monolight or flash to illuminate your photos, then you’ll be delighted to know that a single light source can be used in many, many different ways. Softboxes are some of the most versatile and popular light modifier because of the way that they enlarge a light source, don’t waste its power, and essentially create a giant panel of light on a subject.

You can choose to DIY your own, but many more conventional softboxes are much better in so many ways.

The folks over at Sekonic recently released a video with photographer Tony Corbell about how to use a single softbox in 10 different ways. By doing this, he also explains how you can get the most bang for your buck from a single light source, and therefore save more money.

The video on 10 Different Ways to Use the Same Softbox is after the jump.

PS: looking for a cheap one to start out with? Check out our review of the Impact Quikbox.

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Useful Photography Tip #106: Three Ways to Make One Light Look Like Two

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Samsung 85mm f1.4 portraits extra (1 of 1)ISO 1001-125 sec at f - 2.8

Want more Useful Photography Tips? Check them out here.

In the photo world, there are loads and loads of tricks that you can use to make viewers of your images believe that you’ve shot something with either all natural light or with one primary light. And if you have only a single light to begin with, there are ways that you can make your image appear as if two lights were added to the scene. All it requires is a bit a strategic placement of your lights or some extra knowledge of exposures.

For starters, keep in mind that when working with an artificial light (strobe or flash) that your aperture will control your flash exposure while your shutter speed manipulates the ambient lighting in the scene. Somehow or another, you’re going to have to figure out a way to balance the two out.

So how do you do this?:

A very large light modifier in relation to your subject: Usually a six or seven foot umbrella being placed in front of and slightly above your subject can make your scene look like it was lit with two lights when the according shutter speed is dialed in.

One Light and a Reflector: When your light is on one side of the subject, either set the light to its widest zoom setting or put it into a large softbox.. Next, place a reflector on the other side of your subject–we recommend using either white or silver. Then use the shutter speed to mix in enough ambient lighting to fill in the shadows while balancing out the flash output.

– One light and the shadows for evenness control: To make this one work, you’ll need to work outside and in a shadowed area of some sort. Bounce the light off of a surface or once again make the flash zoom out to its widest setting. After this, you’ll just need to mix the ambient lighting from the shutter speed accordingly. We recommend underexposing your shutter just a bit then raising the shadows in post.

Now get out there and go experiment.

Useful Photography Tip #77: How to Get a Background to Go to Pure White

Want more Useful Photography Tips? Check them out here.

While many photographers sit there and boast about the one light technique (and don’t get us wrong, it’s beautiful) there are times where you’ll want to have a totally white background. And what you’ll need to know is that a one light method can’t do it. No matter how hard you try, no combination of ISO, shutter speed, or aperture will add light to a place where there wasn’t light before–and that’s the key.

When shooting a model on a seamless white background, keep this rule in mind: the back light needs to be one stop more powerful than your main light. Ideally, you need two lights: one aimed at the background illuminating it, and the other in front of your model and possibly with a very large light modifier. So in a real world example, what does that mean?

For Manual Light Shooter

When you use your light meter to check the output of the lights, your main light should be weaker while your back light should be stronger. For the image above, our main light (which was next to the camera and in front of our model) was metered to f8 at ISO 100. The back light (hitting the background and positioned off to the side) was metered to f11 at ISO 100. Therefore, the light in the back is brighter and therefore gives the effect of a seamless white.

It would have also worked if my main light was set to f5.6 and my back light was set to f8. Same with my main being set to f2.8 and my back being set to f4.

For TTL Light Shooters 

Your main light (on the model) should be set normally while your back light (the one hitting the background) will be set to +1 stop.

This is the more simplistic way of putting all of this without talking about ratios and all. But go ahead and give it a try.